Audio (English): Mikhail Nesterov, Two Sisters
Audio (Russian): Mikhail Nesterov, Two Sisters
Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942)
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Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942)

Two Sisters

Details
Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942)
Two Sisters
signed in Cyrillic and dated 'Mikhail. Nesterov./1923.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
26 x 40½ in. (66 x 102.9 cm.)
Provenance
Acquired from the artist by the parents of the present owner in the late 1920s.
Special notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Anna Belousova
Anna Belousova

Lot Essay

A grey and quiet day, the banks of the Volga, a forest can be seen in the distance, the Zavolzh'e, there is a small hermitage in the hills, two sisters are walking around the yard, they are blood sisters, but their souls are different, one has a joyful and carefree soul, the other's heart is gloomy, dark.

Mikhail Nesterov to his friend Aleksandr Turygin on 11th February 1915
Writing to his friend in 1915, Nesterov traced the outline of a composition he developed into a series of exquisite canvasses over a period of ten years, including one example held in the collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus. His choice of subject changed after the advent of the Soviet era, when Nesterov almost exclusively shifted away from spiritual themes to portraiture, a more suitable genre in the new political context. His earlier works, however, always maintained a great personal significance and the artist often returned to his pre-revolutionary compositions, which he often reworked for himself and a small circle of patrons, as was the case for this version of Two Sisters painted in 1923.

The artist immerses the viewer into a lyrical landscape where the air is permeated with the anticipation of spring's arrival. The two sisters in the foreground are promenading peacefully along the banks of the river Volga. The sister on the left is walking pensively, her head lowered and covered in a black shawl. She appears lost in gloomy thoughts and does not seem to notice the awakening of nature all around her. The face of her sister, on the contrary, is lit by a joyful smile. She is dressed in a festive sarafan. She cheerfully raises her hand holding a bouquet of flowers to welcome the arrival of spring. With the sisters the artist presents the viewer with two different lives, whose destinies are growing apart. One of the sisters has failed to find happiness in the outside world and is seeking shelter in the solitude of a monastic hermitage. The other sister, by contrast, embodies the joy that can be achieved on earth. The juxtaposition of the two sisters' inner worlds is accentuated by the colouristic contrast between one sister's sombre black sarafan and the other's bright red garb.

The melancholic figure of the sister dressed in black is a recurring motif in Nesterov's compositions. The figure of 'Nesterov's woman' was first introduced with The Bride of Christ (1886, private collection) and seems to have been shaped by the artist's own tragic experiences. His wife, Maria Martynovskaia, died whilst giving birth to their daughter. The event drastically altered the course of Nesterov's artistic development and spurred the shift in his artistic idiom from historical and genre paintings to what is now widely recognized as the 'Nesterov style'. The artist, who deeply suffered from the loss of his wife, often returned to the melancholic prototype already present in Two Sisters, which first appeared in his work The Bride of Christ. There, the figure in the foreground anticipates the sullen characters of his later paintings and bears a striking physical resemblance to Nesterov's late wife.

The landscape in Two Sisters echoes Nesterov's recurring theme of the synergy between nature and human emotions as well as the celebration of Russia's geographical and architectural heritage. The emotional landscape of the pensive sister on the left is projected onto the nature around her. The delicate brushstrokes envelop the composition in a pale, translucent atmosphere that corresponds to her introverted character. Her meditative expression complements the flat, horizontal areas on the canvas where fields and water are captured in a rhythmical composition of parallel lines. In this painting, Nesterov skilfully extends the human soul into the world around it, while encompassing nature within the space of one being.

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